Teens and The THC Build-up Syndrome
Some people can use cannabis, even use a lot of it over longp. But those users who are more vulnerable, especially if they start using before their brains have fully developed (before age 25), often experience a set of progressive effects now well recognized by addiction professionals. This THC Build-up Syndrome is not just a concept, it is the predictable consequence of one of the unique and well known properties of THC: its fat solubility. Unlike alcohol and most other brain-altering drugs, which are water soluble, THC can’t be rapidly “washed out” of the brain and body. Instead, it stores in the fatty tissues that line all of our cells. These fatty cell walls are particularly dense in the brain, 60 percent of which is composed of fat, as a result. THC moves readily into these sensitive nerve cell walls as it stimulates the “high.” But some of it remains there, its presence increasing over time, creating subtler, but ever-more-entrenched changes in mood, feeling, thought, and behavior. Unless the supply is completely stopped, the stored THC cannot be ejected and continues to increasingly interfere with the functioning of the cells that produce the brain’s neurotransmitters, our natural promoters of pleasure, energy, motivation, relaxation, and positive mood. The most influential of these neurotransmitters are serotonin, our natural anti-depressant; endorphin, our natural painkiller; GABA, our natural tranquilizer; and dopamine, which provides our mental energy and sense of reward. The brain’s natural cannabinoids (1 and 2) are also impacted by THC.
The progression starts with occasional highs. After each of these early highs is over, the brain can expel the THC and return to its normal function. But the stronger the THC content and the more frequently it’s ingested, the sooner its residues begin to build up. This often creates a false between-high persona, which eventually becomes a constant one as THC interferes more and more with the normal functioning of the brain.
Even if cannabis ingestion ends, the brain can only gradually expel the THC. But this expulsion can be aided (and speeded) by the use of the nutrients that the brain’s cell walls are naturally made of: the phospholipids phosphatidyl serine, choline, and ethanolamine, as well as the Omega-3 fats. Amino acid supplements can also be added to build up levels of any of the neurotransmitters that have become depleted. These nutritional helpers can quickly re-regulate mood, energy, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors - and stop the cravings for the THC. (For more on this see allianceforaddictionsolutions.com.)
The THC content of cannabis products has increased from .5% in 1967 up to 80% or higher in 2017.
What were frequent pot users like before their THC build-up started? Their true natures, their innate character, interests, abilities, and affections can be buried under the increasing load of THC. But it is all still there, and it can be fully resuscitated by the removal of THC. Hundreds of parents we’ve worked with over the years have used the same phrase to describe what this is like: “I’ve got my kid back!” Addicts themselves find that the gradual return of their natural abilities, feelings, interests, motivation, and dreams (literally) is like coming back to life. One 19-year-old who had been using THC since he was 12, was able to finish a quarter in the local junior college during his first three months off THC – a big advance (even though he got all Cs. But six months later, he was still at the) C and getting all As.
Distinguishing between THC Buildup and normal teen development is hard for parents and adolescents. Are these the inevitable hormonal changes and the healthy independence urges of normal development or are they the predictable set of behaviors brought on by THC buildup? It depends on how much, and how often they are using and the type and potency of the cannabis they are being exposed to. How vulnerable is their particular brain? If they were already anxious, depressed, oversensitive, sleepless, distracted, or hyperactive before using, they would be more vulnerable. For example, cannabis can have a special attraction for ADHD kids – especially those who’ve been on meds.
THC highs can be energizing, relaxing, sensual, or psychedelic; inner experiences that feel profound or creative; social experiences that often involve laughing, giggling, being sexual (often indiscriminately) or having what seem like deep, enlightening conversations or shared super-pleasure in music, food, TV, nature, video games, or almost anything else.
In contrast, the THC gradually stored in the brain between highs can have more subtle and negative effects. Users are typically blind to this because they can no longer remember what they used to be like.
Memory loss and lack of motivation are two of the most well-documented of the negative consequences of pot use.
The Progressive Effects of THC Buildup
Here are some of the most common steps in the progression, but every brain has its unique responses to the increasing presence of THC.
There are fewer fun family times; less humor and affection or involvement and interest in the non-cannabis users in the family.
Anger and contempt toward family members, especially parents, become common place.
Blow ups with parents become frequent. Later on, anger (e.g. with spouses) can also be a sign that withdrawal is setting in and a hit is needed.
It becomes hard to have pleasure without it, or think of things to do besides get high because the brain is no longer functioning normally. For example, the natural opioid neurotransmitter endorphin often becomes depleted in cannabis users, we’ve found, which makes natural experiences of pleasure harder to access.
Blood shot eyes, paraphernalia evident.
Losing interest in former favorite activities in addition to school, e.g. sports, dance, scouts, hobbies, jobs…
“I don’t care…” becomes a common phrase. (We translate it as “I can’t care because the THC won’t let me.”)
Hanging out with user kids; dropping older, non-user, pals.
Poorer school work and grades; don’t keep up with, or turn in, homework.
Feeling superior to non-users and their experience and expectations of life.
Goals: Losing former dreams of the future not replaced by anything much but wanting to use more pot and, typically, other drugs.
If use starts before the development of secondary sexual characteristics (facial hair, shoulder/pectoral muscles), they may not develop or development may be slow, as testosterone levels are often reduced. (Later, infertility can become a real problem, as is universally reported by fertility clinics.)
Loss of vital REM sleep and dreaming.
Transferring to schools for users.
Detained, arrested for dealing or using at school.
Kicked or drop out of school altogether.
Steal from family.
Becomes a loner-user.
Unable to get or keep a job, be independent, thrive.
Re Psychosis: This effect of THC on the brain is well-documented, worldwide, and can come on at any point, even if the problem is not hereditary. In one case, a 14-year-old became psychotic after one year of regular smoking. Medication did not help, but he recovered well and quickly by following the micronutrient protocols recommended by True Hope (truehope.com).